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Washington Youth Academy’s first class starts Jan. 25 | A new start for troubled teens

J.D. Willett drags a dummy as part of the agility test in August for potential Washington Youth Academy employees who will work with at-risk youth to help redirect their lives. The academy, located at the National Guard Readiness Center in Bremerton, opens Jan. 25. - Wesley Remmer/2008 file photo
J.D. Willett drags a dummy as part of the agility test in August for potential Washington Youth Academy employees who will work with at-risk youth to help redirect their lives. The academy, located at the National Guard Readiness Center in Bremerton, opens Jan. 25.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/2008 file photo

A little more than a year after breaking ground, the Washington Youth Academy (WYA) is set to officially begin classes Jan. 25.

WYA Principal Lynn Caddell and his staff are finally ready for the inaugural group of cadets who will graduate June 27. The academy, located at the National Guard Readiness Center in Bremerton, is a state-run residential and post-residential program that offers at-risk youths ages 16-19 — many of whom are high school dropouts — a chance to redirect their lives.

“I would love to see us with 75 to 100 students,” Caddell said, noting the students will come to Bremerton from all across the state.

Ideally, each class would have 150 students, but because of the compressed timeframe between the academy’s groundbreaking and opening, it was difficult to recruit the full allotment of students for the academy’s first class.

“It’s the only program of its kind in the state,” he said. “The (Washington) State Department, the National Guard and the Bremerton School District have all had to work together to make things happen.”

Each entity involved found ways to work through the challenges associated with making the academy a reality, Caddell said. Leaders like BSD Superintendent Bette Hyde and WYA Director Col. Bill Pettit (Ret.) forged ahead to overcome the obstacles associated with making the academy a reality in such a short time, he added.

The first two weeks of the program is the Pre-Challenge phase. Candidates are assessed to determine their potential for successfully completing the program. Candidates learn to adjust to the physical, mental and social discipline of the program. The focus is on leadership, teamwork, code of conduct and physical fitness training. Candidates who successfully complete the Pre-Challenge Phase will earn the distinction of becoming a WYA cadet and proceed to the Challenge Phase, also known as the Residential Phase.

The 20-week Residential Phase provides cadets opportunities to make basic lifestyle changes that are approached through a rigorous program of education, training, and service to community. Cadets focus on eight core components that develop the whole person in terms of mind, body and personal values. Emphasis is on self-discipline, self-esteem, education and development of healthy lifestyles. Cadets are matched with a caring adult volunteer mentor from their home community who works to support and encourage the youth’s development of an action plan. A cadet’s action plan outlines their personal education, career, housing and transportation goals for the next phase of the program.

After cadets graduate from the Residential Phase, they return to their communities. Graduates continue to build upon their relationship with their established mentor who serves as a positive role model for the next 12 months and beyond. Mentors are committed to helping WYA graduates achieve their post-graduation goals.

In addition to helping at-risk teens, the academy also places an emphasis on community service and is currently seeking service project ideas from the local community, Caddell said.

“If a non-profit organization or other group has an idea for a community service project, we would definitely like to hear from them,” he said, noting that cadets will be performing these projects on the weekends. “As long as it’s constructive things that kids can do that would be great.”

Examples of community service projects range from cleaning up city parks to helping with a Habitat for Humanity building project, he added.

Mentors also will play an instrumental role in helping cadets achieve their goals as each cadet will develop a plan for their first year after graduating from the program and they will be expected to meet those goals during that time, he said.

Those mentors will come from the local community, and people interested in becoming mentors are required to complete an application and attend mentor orientation and training, he said.

In addition to serving as mentors, community members can make monetary contributions to the Washington Youth Academy Foundation, which is designed to help students pay for things like boots and other items the academy doesn’t provide, he said, noting that everything else is funded by the state and federal governments.

More information about the program can be found on its Web site at www.ngycp.org/site/state/wa/.

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